Devonport Dockyard Telephone Exchange: 1990s

Joanne Hayward worked at the Dockyard Telephone Exchange during the 1990s. She contacted me enquiring how to find her dockyard employment records. As part of my reply I asked Joanne if she would like to describe her time in the Exchange, and what it was like to work there - I thought it might interest readers, especially those that had worked in the Exchange at some point. She very kindly sent me the following …

"I joined the telephone exchange in the summer of 1993 just after I got married to a matelot in Plymouth. I had trained as a telephone operator in the Army which I joined in 1983 and left in 1988, before settling in Plymouth in 1991.

The exchange had a team of both male and female operators and the Exchange supervisor was a lady called Pat Rose. The shift supervisors were Big Jean (she was tall) Terry and sometimes Val, but to be honest it was whoever was available. The ladies were 2 x Jean, Julie D, Julie V, Barbara, Val, Diana, Lizzy, Lara and myself. The chaps were Ray, Colin, Graham Potter and Patrick Bulley. I’m sure there were many more but these are the staff I remember the most.

The exchange was automatic and as I had trained on the original plug boards it was exciting to learn how it worked. Directory Enquiries were the paper varieties and served not only all of the Civilian directories of the British Isles but also all of the military directories for wherever we had Service personnel. Just before I left, Directory Enquiries became automated and for the younger of us it was good fun to learn how to use it, but the older operators hated it. We would take a call logging all of the caller’s details and time their call on and off in order for us to bill their ship mess. It was also good fun to chat to the duty personnel during the small hours of the morning, especially at Christmas and New Year. I remember we had a party one New Year’s Eve with the engineers, and I don’t think many calls were answered that night. We were a good bunch and I really enjoyed my time with them all.

I stayed with the exchange until June 1995 when I moved to DML working on their reception/switchboard in COB 2. The only reason I left was because there were rumours that the exchange was going to relocate to Portsmouth, which I believe it did. I would probably still be there if it hadn’t moved as I really enjoyed the interaction between service and civilian personnel.

The shifts were split into days, backs (lunch till about 9), then night shifts. There were usually 3 of us for a night shift. We would watch movies then pull our chairs up to the exchange, put the alarm on and wait for the calls between nods! The engineers were in a room off the exchange but only bothered with us if we broke the equipment or had food. I remember one Shrove Tuesday offering to make pancakes for everyone and big Jean saying they resembled bladders! How rude!

My husband threw a surprise 30th Birthday party in Feb 1994 and all the girls turned up. I don’t know how they kept it secret."

Article written by Joanne Hayward. February 2013